Jody Corcoran: Political Notebook

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Jody Corcoran: Political Notebook

 


Leo Varadkar greeted Angela Merkel in Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Leo Varadkar greeted Angela Merkel in Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

While Angela Merkel was in Dublin last week, where she offered vague assurances on Brexit, the Border and the still controversial backstop – “where there’s a will, there’s a way” – her hand-picked successor back home in Germany was more illuminating in a series of carefully chosen interviews.

Not that the full panoply of Irish media got to question Merkel on her thoughts – far from it, indeed, what with Leo Varadkar’s media management seemingly confining questions to the amenable RTE and Irish Times to the exclusion of everybody else.

In Berlin, however, the new CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), was far more interesting.

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In an interview with the BBC, AKK, as she is known, had a suggestion as to what the European Union could do next: take another look at the controversial backstop guarantee.

“If the UK now came to us and said ‘let’s spend five days negotiating non-stop on how to avoid the backstop’, I can’t imagine anyone in Europe saying ‘No’. If the UK had new watertight proposals for the Border, I don’t think anyone in the EU would say, ‘We don’t want to talk about it’.”

A recent poll suggested 100,000 German jobs could be affected by a no-deal Brexit. The BDI, the Federation of German Industry, has warned that Germany would lose at least 0.5pc of its GDP, and this at a time when the German economy is already heading south.

The BBC’s Katya Adler, to whom the interview was given, analysed AKK’s comment thus: “Far from official EU Brexit policy, but it gives us a taster of the kind of conversations going on behind closed EU political doors.”

So, you think it’s all over? Well, it may not be yet. AKK is scheduled to take over from Mrs Merkel in 2021. How long will be that Article 50 extension?

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Martin Mansergh, the former government minister and Fianna Fail policy adviser on Northern Ireland, has said that “in the context of longer-term Irish unity”, membership of the Commonwealth is “not to be dismissed out of hand”.

But like reformulation of Articles 2 and 3 in the Good Friday Agreement, Dr Mansergh says Ireland’s membership of the Commonwealth is probably best addressed in comprehensive negotiation rather than unilaterally in advance and as part of a lasting mutual accommodation between unionism and republican separatism.

In an article in the current issue of the Irish Catholic newspaper, Dr Mansergh refers to a proposal by the “constructive unionist” Jeffrey Donaldson at a recent Fine Gael conference that Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth as a conciliatory gesture.

The irony was that this was suggested, Dr Mansergh writes, while the DUP was advocating a hard Brexit, which was in no way conciliatory and undermined the current frictionless Border.

The danger was that such a move would be represented by some unionists as heralding Ireland’s return to what they call “the British family of nations” and that it would confuse our EU partners, whose solidarity is vital at the present time to Ireland.

“No Irish government is likely to want to excite an emotive debate about an issue where there is minimal public demand for change and where the possible benefits are not clear-cut,” Dr Mansergh said.

However, on the face of it, he said, the Commonwealth today was a loose and largely benign association of about 60 states, mostly one-time British colonies, the majority of them republics.

“Its headquarters are in London, and Queen Elizabeth is its head, as her successor is also likely to be. While it is a forum that provides significant networking opportunities, assists poorer members and tries to foster democratic values, it is not a political alliance or economic bloc, nor an adequate substitute for Britain’s EU membership.

“Irish reservations about it, strongly held by some, come from a quite negative role it represented in the early decades of independence.”

Dr Mansergh served as Minister of State at the Department of Finance and Minister of State for the Arts from 2008 to 2011. He served as a TD for the Tipperary South constituency from 2007 to 2011. He was a Senator for the Agricultural Panel from 2002 to 2007. He played a leading role in formulating Fianna Fail policy on Northern Ireland, serving with three Fianna Fail leaders as director of research, policy and special adviser on Northern Ireland.

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Is political language broken? Twitter promotes discourse that is simple, impulsive and uncivil. It has also become the chosen tool of a new breed of leader, Leo Varadkar among them, such as Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, to which we could add Mark Zuckerberg. You know the type.

Sometimes it is enough to make you yearn for the politicians of old. Well, maybe not quite. But it does make you wonder whether this age of social media has improved or disproved political imagination, or even discourse.

The invention of the moveable printing press in Mainz, Germany, (of course) between 1446 and 1450 has been implicated in the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, all of which had profound effects on their eras.

When we look to Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres 1543, John Locke’s Second Treaty of Government 1680-1690, Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems 1632, or perhaps Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (pamphlet) 1776, we can see how the printing press changed how people thought about the world. Later we can see much the same thing with specific works such as Paine’s the Rights of Man 1792.

The jury is still out on Twitter and Facebook.

Incidentally, the 468th anniversary of the first printed book in Ireland is upon us, on April 17, Wednesday week. The “official printer to his Majesty in Ireland”, Humphrey Powell, was given a special grant to establish the first printing press in Ireland, and the Book of Common Prayer was printed in Dublin at his new press in 1551.

Sunday Independent

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